Gamblers to host two camps at Resch Center
By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – The 26th season in Green Bay Gamblers’ history was a successful one.
Now that the offseason is in full swing, the Gamblers’ front office is busy building the program for next year and beyond.
The Gamblers have a pair of invite-only camps coming up to allow drafted, undrafted free agents and future draft-eligible teenagers a chance to shine in one of the top Tier I programs in the country.
Green Bay will hold its main camp June 19-24 and a futures camp June 26-30, both at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
“It’s how we pick our team,” Gamblers Director of Scouting Brian Sommariva said. “It gives us great insight into these players. We’ll get time with our draft picks, talk to them about what their plans are for the next year or two and understand what their road maps are personally. Then, they understand what our road maps look like to bring them into our team. It’s more than the on-ice stuff – we try and focus on getting to know the players and them getting to know us.”
A busy main camp
Green Bay stocked up on talent during the United States Hockey League (USHL) Draft May 26-27.
The Gamblers selected 10 players in Phase I of the draft, which is for “futures” age players only.
These are U17 players for next year’s season (2005 birth year).
The next day, the team drafted 16 players during Phase II.
That portion of the draft is open to any juniors-eligible players who are not protected by a USHL franchise.
For its main camp, Green Bay invites all this year’s draft picks and undrafted free agents to come for the first two days and get acclimated and show what they can do on the ice.
“For lots of our draft picks, it’s the first time I get my eyes on them,” Pat Mikesch, Gamblers head coach, said. “I can sit down with them and get to know their faces. We’ve talked to them on the phone, but to talk about what their hobbies are and things like that, it’s nice. They’ll have their first interactions with our staff as well, which is important for the player to build that relationship on their own.”
It’s also an opportunity for the Gamblers’ coaching staff to work with the younger players.
“It gives us time to break down those younger kids, do some scouting for the following year with some we bring in and then slowly, we get into the main part of the camp with our guys competing on six different teams,” Mikesch said. “Then, we break it down to two all-star teams. Before we have the all-star games, we spend time practicing with them and getting to know them.”
Mikesch is expecting about 150 undrafted players to attend the camp and fight for a potential roster spot.
The players will compete in a total of three games in the first two days of camp and a fourth game on the third day before cuts are made and the veteran Gamblers players join the camp.
“This is a big hockey world, and we’re going to miss players,” Sommariva said. “Having free agents come and showcase their skills – there will be a guy who turns your head you had no clue about or you missed. You’ll make a point to go watch him this coming year and draft him the following year.”
On Day 3 of the camp, the numbers will be pared down to 108 – 18 kids on each of the six teams.
That final number will reduce to 80 players for the four teams for the all-star games.
“With the all-star games, we have guys who are trying out for the team this year playing against each other, and then we put the younger players who are going on the affiliate list playing against each other,” Mikesch said.
Sommariva said the players the Gamblers bring in for the main camp, he and his staff have watched quite a few times over the years.
“When we watch players, there are so many levels we have to sift through – whether it would be Detroit AAA hockey, Minnesota high school or minor midget,” he said. “In your search for players, there are lots of context you try to sort through, so when you can put them all on one ice surface, it’s helpful for us. Any time you get your draft picks on the ice, especially right after a draft, it has that kid on Christmas day feeling. You can’t wait to see some of them play. There were other guys we liked and didn’t have the draft picks to select them. So, to get a few of those guys here is exciting as well.”
The main camp is an annual event and has been around well before Mikesch came to the Gamblers 10 years ago.
Every USHL team runs a similar camp during the summer to prepare for the following season.
Mikesch said he loves getting the newly-drafted players in early so they can get acclimated.
“Lots of them are heading to the USA National camps this summer,” he said. “They’ve gone through their district tryouts, and they make it to a national camp for USA Hockey. We’ll see them out there with lots of these guys, but it will be their first visit to Green Bay. They get to see the Resch Center and the locker room and all the things that go with the Gamblers.”
A look into the future
The futures camp is different for the players coming in and the Gamblers’ coaches.
It’s players in birth years 2006 and ’07 who weren’t draft-eligible this year.
It’s a sneak peek for Sommariva and what to expect for next year’s USHL Draft.
Sommariva said he’s hoping to have between 200-250 players from around the country come to the futures camp.
“For lots of those kids, we’ll break down and do more stuff on the ice with drills or practices,” he said. “The quality of coaching at youth hockey has improved exponentially, but what you’ll see now is those kids will get experience with junior voices.”
This is the first time in seven years the Gamblers will be running a futures camp.
When Mikesch was the team’s director of scouting, he ran it every year, but then it stopped when he took over as coach.
“It was a great way to kick off next year’s scouting season,” Mikesch said. “We’ll bring in about four teams worth of 2006s, and it won’t feel like a tryout camp to those kids. It will be an experience, lots of skill development and them getting to know us. It’s an opportunity for us to work with the faces of next year’s draft.”
Sommariva said he believes there’s a good chance the futures camp could return to being an annual event.
Mikesch said he’s also on board with that.
“Talking with Brian, we felt it was a great opportunity,” Mikesch said. “I liked it when I was in Brian’s role. You work with the kids on the ice and get to know them. The rest of the year you’re going to be watching them play and maybe have a phone conversation with them. To be on the ice and talk with kids about different situations, it’s a great way for coaches to gain knowledge of how intelligent of a hockey player they are and how much drive they have.”
Sports Editor’s note: To read a recent story from The Press Times on Gamblers player Mason Lohrei, CLICK HERE.